I took classical guitar lessons for a few years. My ever-patient guitar teacher struggled with my insistence on changing the rhythm of songs to suit my preference.
“That’s a quarter note,” he would say, “not a half note.”
“I know, but it should be a half note,” I would answer.
The songs sometimes sounded better to me with a single long note instead of two shorter notes. He was happy when I played two quarter notes, but I wasn’t.
I dabbled in watercolour painting, too. I took some classes to get started. The teacher told us we could sketch an outline in pencil before putting paint to canvas. “Pencil is an accepted medium in watercolour” she told us. It surprised me that other sketching media might be disallowed. No coloured markers to brighten things up? No texture from smattered dabs of oil paint? Wouldn’t that make the art more captivating and isn’t art that captivates the whole idea? The adjudicators of art shows are happy when unacceptable media don’t contaminate watercolour paintings, but are the artists?
I love a glass of red wine, but I don’t care much for white. On occasion. wine snobs look over their spectacles at me in disdain when I choose to drink red wine with chicken. Wine pairings, you know. But why, oh why should I drink wine I don’t even like just to live up to some arbitrary societal expectation? The wine snobs would be happy if I drank Chardonnay with my roast chicken, but I wouldn’t be.
I’ve come to realize that, when it comes to matters of artistic and personal taste, I don’t like rules, because they’re usually about making someone else—a small, select group of people—happy.
We need rules to control traffic so drivers don’t smash into each other and cause injury or death. We need rules to regulate building construction so our houses don’t crumble around us. And we need rules to protect basic human rights. Those kind of rules aim to keep as many people as possible happy.
But please allow me to enjoy Merlot with my chicken in cream sauce. Please let me add a splash of unorthodox colour here and there in my artwork and hold a musical note a little longer if it feels right to me.
No one will die, no buildings will crumble, I won’t trample on the basic human rights of others, and I’ll be happy.